Intense fighting in Sudan continues as death toll nears 100

By Jessie Yeung and CNN journalists in Sudan, April 17: Intense fighting in Sudan is continuing for a third day, sparking growing alarm among foreign governments and international organizations as the death toll ticks higher.

Clashes first erupted Saturday between the country’s military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Much of the conflict is concentrated in the capital Khartoum, where the army headquarters and presidential palace are located.

Eyewitnesses there told CNN they heard mortars and artillery in the early hours of Monday morning, with the fighting intensifying after dawn prayers.

There were increased airstrikes around Khartoum Airport and Sudanese Army garrison sites, eyewitnesses said. Verified video footage shows military jets and helicopters hitting the airport; other clips show the charred remains of the army’s General Command building nearby after it was engulfed in fire on Sunday.

There were also reports of battles hundreds of miles away in the eastern city of Port Sudan and the western Darfur region over the weekend.

As of Monday, at least 97 people have been killed, according to the Preliminary Committee of the Sudanese Doctor’s trade union. Earlier on Sunday, the World Health Organization estimated more than 1,126 were injured.

Local resistance committees have warned civilians to stay indoors, with one local resident tweeting that they were “trapped inside our own homes with little to no protection at all.”

“All we can hear is continuous blast after blast. What exactly is happening and where we don’t know, but it feels like it’s directly over our heads,” they wrote.

Access to information is also limited, with the government-owned national TV channel now off the air. Television employees told CNN that it is in the hands of the RSF.

The conflict has put other countries and organizations on high alert, with the United Nations’ World Food Program temporarily halting all operations in Sudan after three employees were killed in clashes on Saturday.

UN and other humanitarian facilities in Darfur have been looted, while a WFP-managed aircraft was seriously damaged by gunfire in Khartoum, impeding the WFP’s ability to transport aid and workers within the country, the international aid agency said in a statement Sunday.

The Khartoum International Airport was one of the scenes of fighting this weekend, with several aircraft photographed damaged and on fire. On Sunday, Dagalo told CNN the RSF was in control of the airport, as well as several other government buildings in the capital.

Qatar Airways announced Sunday it was temporarily suspending flights to and from Khartoum due to the closure of its airport and airspace.

Meanwhile, Mexico is working to evacuate its citizens from Sudan, with the country’s foreign minister saying Sunday it is looking to “expedite” their exit.

The United States embassy in Sudan said Sunday there were no plans for a government-coordinated evacuation yet for Americans in the country, citing the closure of the Khartoum airport. It advised US citizens to stay indoors and shelter in place, adding that it would make an announcement “if evacuation of private US citizens becomes necessary.”

Power struggle

At the heart of the clashes are Dagalo and his rival, Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

The pair had worked together to topple ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and played a pivotal role in the military coup in 2021, which ended a power-sharing agreement between the military and civilian groups.

The military has been in charge of Sudan since then, with Burhan and Dagalo at the helm.

But recent talks led to cracks in the alliance between the two military leaders. The negotiations have sought to integrate the RSF into the country’s military, as part of the effort to transition to civilian rule.

Sources in Sudan’s civilian movement and Sudanese military sources told CNN the main points of contention included the timeline for the merger of the forces, the status given to RSF officers in the future hierarchy, and whether RSF forces should be under the command of the army chief, rather than Sudan’s commander-in-chief, who is currently Burhan.

The fresh clashes have prompted widespread calls for peace and negotiations, with Sudan’s former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok warning on Sunday that the country could enter a civil war. African leaders held emergency meetings on Sunday, with Sudan’s neighbours Egypt and South Sudan offering to mediate.

The UN’s political mission in Sudan has said the country’s two warring factions have agreed to a “proposal” although it is not yet clear what that entails.